5 Star, Chennai, Eating out, Haleem, Iftar, Ramadan, Ramzan Specials

Step in to an Iftar World

My dislike for buffets has been well documented. Especially if I am off to a food festival that ends up being part of the buffet. But there is the odd buffet that steps up its game and surprises me. With a Ramzan that started reasonably terrible with respect to food, the last couple of weeks has been a saving grace. With Cafe G at Holiday Inn serving iftar, I was looking forward to another nice set menu and once again I was a little skeptical when I found out that it was a buffet. The one at Taj was a poor excuse for a Iftar buffet with the only thing iftarish about it was that it began at 630 PM.

Thankfully, Holiday Inn has got it near perfect. Priced at Rs 1250 plus tax (ends up at Rs. 1500), the price is a shocker for a 5 star buffet. Eat the food and I was left wondering if they make any money off it. While it is certainly not the biggest buffet in the city, it is definitely one of the few buffets with almost a-la-carte quality food.

A plate of fruits, dates and a green drink was presented to us to kick start our feast after the fast. The green drink was a beautiful chilled milk spiced perfectly with cardamom that was soothing for the fasting tummy. The haleem was also served on the table. While I would have preferred classic haleem, that is not going to be possible in a 5 star kitchen, but what the chef has done here is commendable. The liquid fat on the haleem here was ghee, but to make up for it, it was served with a nice Sheermal and onions. Having the haleem with sheermal was brilliant. The meaty flavour of the haleem was shining through and it ended up being a side dish for the sheermal. I wasn’t complaining.

The mezze platter that arrived next had three dips. The hummus, the tzatziki and the beetroot dip. The hummus was excellent and one of the best available in a Chennai buffet as of now. Beautifully thick, olive oil floating and smooth, we licked the glass bowl clean!

The bread basket didn’t have any naan or roti and I loved that! It had sheermal and varky paratha, a form of sweet paratha flavoured by honey, from the Lucknow region. While I had the sheermal, this time with the gravy and dhal from the buffet, the varky paratha simply didn’t need anything to be enjoyed. We had it with the gravy and then realised that it was a dish by itself. Super soft, flaky and moist with ghee and honey, this was the hero dish.

Biriyani was a disappointment. Clearly, the focus on the other dishes didn’t allow any space for focusing on a dish like the biriyani, but being an iftar buffet, it was there. The live counter had a beautiful looking chicken roulade that looked a lot better than it tasted.

There was a large dessert counter and a lot of them were disappointing, but three excellent dishes made up for the rest. The strawberry basbousa was soft, deeply flavourful and melt-in-the-mouth consistency. I could have eaten a dozen of it. The Wattalappam, though wasn’t perfect (I mean home style authentic), could pass off as a good dish and the baklava was yummy. Without a glass breaking top, the blueberry creme brûlée was a mushy mess!

While the ITC’s Iftar meal is the best sit down meal this Iftar, G Cafe’s buffet is lot more value for money with its killer pricing, a wonderful spread of dishes with a good focus on Iftar based meals and kurtha and skull cap clad waiters carrying off the theme rather well! I wish I had known of this earlier as I had to entertain a few guests for iftar early last week and this would have been the perfect place for that. Knowing what the chef is capable of in a buffet, it would be interesting to see if Holiday Inn opens a specialty restaurant soon! I hope they do and I hope they retain this quality of food in the buffet!

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Chennai, Eating out, Haleem

Is the haleem fad fading in Chennai?

I’d have to admit that while Haleem doesn’t belong to Chennai, it was welcomed with open arms. Fisherman’s fare was the first (I think) to bring this Hyderabad delicacy to Chennai and I used to wait for Ramzan just to savour this. In the process, Haleem became a household name by 2011 and by 2012 every restaurant serving Iftar foods started having their version of the Haleem.  Some were excellent, some were poor excuses, but the city had choice.

Things started going downhill last year. I guess the cost of the ingredients and the audience not willing to pay a higher price for good quality Haleem started the downfall. A number of places serving terrible Haleem stopped and the ones serving good ones started reducing their quality. The lack of meat was palpable and the careless preparations were starting to show. First to the ones with a trained palate and then to everyone else.

This year, the lack of good Haleem has been rather appalling. For me, the Haleem took away the humble but flavourful ‘Nombu Kanji‘ that Chennai was used to breaking fast with. Since Haleem was better, it didn’t feel so bad, but now with Haleem dwindling, the Nombu kanji has also lost it with not too many people, except for the mosques, making it. This is a double whammy! Places that served good Haleem are now serving terrible ones. However, and this is what irks me more, the food that has been served with the Haleem has also taken a hit. Lukhmi, a kind of samosa, is nowhere to be found. The Chennai cutlets that were a staple in most places have disappeared as they gave way to the more illustrious cousins from Hyderabad. Nannari sherbet, another staple in Chennai for Iftar has also disappeared.

I tried three Iftar boxes in the last two weeks and I’ve been terribly terribly disappointed. I’m told that Abid is still keeping the Haleem flag flying and I’ve got that for today’s Iftar and I hope the food is good. Because now it is not just about the Haleem but the Iftar offerings in general.

I had a day trip to Hyderabad and I had Haleem at Shah Ghouse. Being used to Haleem in Chennai, the ones in Hyderabad took me to heaven and back, so Haleem has not suffered all over, just in Chennai.

It is about time that the Nombu Kanji and the cutlets make a come back in Chennai. About time. And Haleem can be the thing that we have once in a while, but it simply cannot be the staple anymore. It was just that the fad lasted for a good 10 years, but looks like Haleem simply cannot survive in Chennai! Or will I be proven wrong?

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